by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/12/24 15:21 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/12/24/1358825.aspx
The problem I have with Chaunkah is a complex issue to describe.
It is not because there are 697,000 ways to spell this Hebrew transliterated word into English (after all, thats no fault of the day that no knows how to spell it).
It is not because its now an over-hyped, over-commercialized piece of rubbish that feels like a total sellout (after all, Christmas is just as bad in that respect). Though I think that Chaunkah suffers a bit more than Kwanzaa in regard to acting as a Christmas replacement in terms of overall honesty of purpose.
The real problem in my opinion is what it did to Judaism, and also incidentally what it did to Christianity as a by the way.
A bit of historical info follows to help explain what I mean.... :-)
Back in the time of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, he started what amounts to an odd break from practice the way he started interfering in internal affairs in the country. Many theories abound as to why he did this, even including a theory related to a piece of his name being like a word that means 'insanity', but that kind of argument is as silly as numerology or that New York Post article claiming that Microsoft being anti-semitic of the basis of the contents of the Wingdings font -- if you believe in such rubbish then in an Eversonian sense I won't judge no matter how stupid your opinions may be....
Back to Antiochus IV.
He did give Jerusalem the status of a Polis. This probably had more to do with helping himself, since it obviously increased his stature to have such a thing under his rule. Though some people were happy with the idea, many of the inhabitants were not, and this probably led to the next actions of Antiochus....
He was basically kicking ass all over Judea since all of these ungrateful wretches were not happy with their new status.
By about 169 BCE he had eliminated the high priesthood, outlawed Torah study in general, and rededicated the temple to some Greek god (I am not sure which one, though).
Antiochus and his army found that Jews back then were from a military standpoint pretty damn easy to kill, since they believed they were not able to fight on the Sabbath. I doubt Antiochus even worried about the morale costs related to the overtime for weekend hours. It probably worked out well for him since during the rest of the time he had both Persian and Roman border skirmishes on his mind. An easy Saturday task of killing off people who couldn't fight back might have helped morale of his soldiers. There are several horror stories of whole communities that were slaughtered; things were pretty bad.
So enter Mattathias (the priest) and Judah Maccabee of the story of Chanukah.
Now when Judah Maccabee beat back these Syrian-Greek mercenaries working for Antiochus, it was mostly not so much due to the truly brilliant military battle strategies as is often claimed. It was honestly due to for the most part two specific bits of strategy:
1) Judah made alliances with Rome and Sparta. This would obviously cause Antiochus some worries since that meant he was suddenly having to worry about people who had no problem killing on a Saturday. Kind of unique form a Shabbes Goy, to be sure. But it can easily make a king nervous.
2) A new and novel interpretation of the Sabbath rules was made, basically that fighting an offensive attack was still out, but one could fight to save one's life.
Now this second point probably scared the hell out of the mercenaries who ran into it -- there is nothing more demoralizing than walking into a situation that you expect to be a cakewalk only to find out that your enemy is going to shoot back. It was like that scene from The Quick and the Dead when Cort (who was not going to fight) shot back rather than being killed. This very same interpretation was espoused a few years later by Jesus himself (the idea of desecrating one Sabbath to protect many future Sabbaths) and also gave rise to the Israeli victory in the Yom Kippur war over 2000 years later.
Ok, so they won. They had not been allowed to celebrate Sukkot that year (wars are not always convenient, time wise) so they held a late one that year, and that eight day festival became Hanukkah.
Unfortunately, the Jews remembered how well they did. Without really knowing or understanding much about why they did so well. And they took on a foolhardy battle against Rome, no doubt remembering how they beat the odds last time. Only this time there were no brilliant alliances or interpretations. The Jews were stomped, and the Temple was destroyed.
This changed the nature of Judaism as a religion, somewhat hugely.
And incidentally, it also changed the nature of Christianity as well. The image of James and Peter of Jews within Christianity being an important thing where the dietary and circumcision rules were still kept (rules that even Paul followed quite rigorously himself while he fought hard for the right of converts to not have such requirements) all fell away. With the Romans looking at Jews as reductionists, suddenly looking not so Jewish was definitely going to work in favor of the early Christian church. The whole nature and emphasis of large parts of the New Testament changed, as the church itself did.
What effect the changes to Judaism and Christianity had to Islam is less clear to me, though given the shared heritage there, I am sure there must have been some impact there.
Thats why I do not tend to celebrate Hanukkah, and why I think that it is not a very good holiday. Because it is a testament of a war that people were smart enough to win, but not smart enough to appreciate why that win would not mean we would win the next big war. I'd rather remember the time as the beginning of the end of an entire way of life....
Christmas has its own problems of course, given that while it is uncertain when exactly Jesus was born it is almost universally understood that it was not December 25th. Which means it really has become the commercial holiday and little else that people cynically believed it became anyway.
You know I actually have a Christmas tree? It's not a real tree, it's a 7.5 foot GE EZ-Light Mountain Spruce with a few boxes of ornaments. Only ever used once (some temporary tenants who wanted some Christmas spirit), now sitting in a box in a closet. Too late to do anything this year, of course. Next year I should probably sell it on E-Bay, or maybe give it some family in need. Someone who really wants to embrace the season and all.
And of course since I am not African-American, Kwanzaa is not really an option for me either.
I may even just go into work tomorrow (or at least work from home). It feels more honest to me.
Maybe next year I'll explain about the problems I have with Thanksgiving.... :-)
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# bg on 24 Dec 2006 4:25 PM:
Just wanted to say thanks for entertaining me for another year. Keep up the good work!
# Erzengel on 26 Dec 2006 3:04 AM:
Meh, we should just declare Christmas to be "the sun is starting to stay in the sky longer day" and therefore make it a secular holiday that a person of any or no religion can practice. I don't think it would change anything as that's more or less what it was originally. Santa Clause, indoor decorated tree, mistle toe, and gift giving are all seperate from Jesus of Nazareth; only the nativity and the angel/star on top of the tree comes from Christian mythos.
# Michael S. Kaplan on 26 Dec 2006 4:00 AM:
Isn't the 22nd the Equinox, though? :-)
# Erzengel on 26 Dec 2006 4:05 PM:
Right, we wait 3 days to independantly verify that the sun is indeed staying in the sky longer. ;)
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